Dead 27s refine their soul-rock and gear up for a major album release
The Post and Courier By T. Ballard Lesemann
Since forming in 2012, the members of Charleston soul-rock band the Dead 27s have consistently operated as skillful and confident musical team with a penchant for old-school funk rhythms and classic rock riffs.
“I think we’ve become a band that is at its best when between genres,” says guitarist and co-songwriter Wallace Mullinax. “We’re all happy with the mix of influences that are creeping in and starting to solidify into an identity for us.”
With a sharp new collection of original songs in the can and a lively fundraising project nearing completion, the Dead 27s are poised for new success in the Lowcountry scene and elsewhere. Longtime fans and curious newcomers will get a chance to dig into the band’s latest set of soul and rock when the band headlines at the Windjammer this weekend.
New album on the way
This summer, the Dead 27s have been gearing up for the release of their studio album, “Ghosts Are Calling Out,” an 11-song set recorded in New Orleans with Grammy-nominated producer Ben Ellman, a longtime New Orleans musician, producer and saxophonist with the funk ensemble Galactic.
“We’re targeting markets outside of Charleston to grow our fan base,” Crider says. “We hope to tour more with some of the bands we’ve been able to open for as well. The main goal is just to continue to grow, write and enjoy the journey.”
Crider and Mullinax already were well known in the local band scene when they started putting the Dead 27s together in 2012. Shortly after a stint with singer/songwriter Elise Testone following her “American Idol” adventures, the drummer and guitarist assembled the Dead 27s as an original blues/soul/rock project with bassist Oliver Goldstein, guitarist Will Evans and vocalist Trey Francis. The quintet played a colorful blend of guitar-rock, old-school funk, electric blues and classic soul. It didn’t take long for the band to blossom into a fully committed songwriting machine.
After performing regionally for a year and a half, the Dead 27s fine-tuned a full set of originals and recorded their first local studio sessions at Truphonic Recording and Ocean Industries. In April 2014, they independently released the result of those sessions, a tight and confident debut album titled “Chase Your Devils Down.”
The initial success of “Chase Your Devils Down” led to an enthusiastic push in 2015 to write, record and produce on a higher level.
“Until the point of recording ‘Chase Your Devils Down,’ I feel there was some audience confusion regarding the band’s direction and commitment to original material,” says Mullinax. “We had a handful of songs, and that was basically it. Once we had the recording, we could hold that up and show we existed, that we’d achieved the first milestone. With ‘Ghosts Are Calling Out,’ we wanted to better establish our musical fingerprint.”
The band hooked up with Ellman as a studio collaborator/producer last summer. Ellman was impressed with the band’s demos, and invited them for a session at Living Room Recording, a fully equipped, 3,500-square-foot pro studio set inside a 1930s wood-frame church situated across the river from downtown New Orleans.
“They’d been playing a lot of these songs live already, so things were tight in the sessions,” Ellman remembers. “They were obviously a band that knew how to read each other. Our approach varied from song to song, but the big picture involved the whole band really wanting and being willing to experiment sonically and get out from the concept of simply recording a band live. They were motivated to explore the song craft, geek out on tones, and expand the sonic palette during their time in the studio. That’s the fun stuff.”
“Willingness is a big thing,” Ellman adds. “Some bands simply want to document a live performance, and that’s cool. But the Dead 27s wanted to craft a record, and they wanted to take chances. Those are the first steps.”
During production, Mullinax was particularly concerned about the musical texture of the new material. “Texture was a major point of emphasis,” he says. “The music we were listening to allowed for broad use of layering and subtlety. We typically write tunes from a very ‘song-centric’ position, looking at texture last, and solely as support for the song. This time, songs were written to support and create specific texture.”
The Dead 27s recently offered to let Charleston Scene take a sneak peek at some of the new tunes. Crider’s funky kick/snare beat backs a nasty guitar lick from Mullinax on the anthemic album opener “What a Waste.”
A double-time Motown rhythm pushes the strummy song “Queen.” Francis’ soulful singing style stands out on the groovy, mid-tempo “Already Dead” and the easy swingin’ “Grey Skies.”
The massive guitar riffs and power chords propel “Scarecrow,” “Rainbow” and the New Orleans-tinged closing track “Only One.”
The band adds vibraphone, weird synth sounds and audio effects to the sonicscapes of “Intergalactic Dream” and “Fantastic.” A delicate interplay of acoustic and electric guitar anchors “Emanuel,” a somber, handsome ballad touching on last year’s tragic events at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church.
Overall, “Ghosts Are Calling Out” sounds and feels more expansive than “Chase Your Devils Down,” which has a drier, more immediate, straightforward quality.
“The newer songs just seemed to have more room for the expansive, roomier sounds,” says Crider. “It was intentional to an extent. There was more focus in a direction where we wanted to go than before. The old stuff was much more cut-and-dry. We are much further along in finding ourselves as a band versus where we were when we cut ‘Chase Your Devils Down.’ ”
During the “Ghosts” session, the band’s rich musical chemistry, sense of professionalism and open-mindedness impressed Ellman. He predicts a very positive reaction when the album hits the street in September and many more good things down the line.
“I think the key to success for this band is just playing the music enough and staying hungry for more,” Ellman says. “I know they can’t wait to release this music and tour and really get out there. I think they’re going to crush it. I hope this record exposes them to a wider audience. There are a lot of earworms across the albums. The choruses are awesome. Trey delivers. The guitars are killing it. There’s a lot to like. I think a lot of people are going to soon know who they are.”